Sunday, November 01, 2020

Kat's Korner: The art of Joni Mitchell

 Kat: Dig me, I'm singing Cole Porter.  Specifically "I'm In Love Again."

I'm in love again, and the spring is comin' 

I'm in love again, hear my heart strings strummin' 

I'm in love again, and the hymn I'm hummin' 

What has me floating on clouds?  Joni Mitchell.  

More specifically, JONI MITCHELL ARCHIVES - VOL. 1: 1963 TO 1967.

Five discs.  119 tracks -- songs and spoken intros.  A great artist emerges in chronological order.

Because Joni is one of our greatest artist.  And she was an artist even when she was strumming her guitar to other people's songs.  A folkie?  Yes, she was.  She performed "House of the Rising Sun" and "The Crow On The Cradle" as well as other songs 60s troubadours were playing.  But she leaves them quickly. That's obvious by the time you get to "Deportee (Plane Crash At Los Gatos)."  I know this song, and others, by Joan Baez.  Joan had a lovely voice.  

But listen to Joni's version.  She inhabits the song, she becomes the song.  Joan sang in a lovely voice but I never bought it as anything other than a lovely voice. Even when singing Dylan in concert, I didn't buy her.  I'm not talking about her school marmish performances in live recordings from the sixties. She was more interested in lecturing to the audience about what a talent Dylan was than in demonstrating it by conveying his songs.   By her 1968 Dylan album ANY DAY NOW, Joan had learned to explore the songs, to try to live in them.  

Joni reaches that reality much sooner and makes it much more believable.  

The 119 tracks are presented in chronological order which really lets you see the growth.  Track twenty-seven presents Joni performing "Urge For Going."  And it's a huge step forward.  It appears again at track 42 and the growth is even greater.  

Will there be another artist like Joni in our lifetime?  Probably not.  It's like asking if there will be another Stevie Wonder or Bob Dylan.  We're lucky when we get even one artist like that in a lifetime.  And Joni's art has impacted beyond anything even she could have imagined when she was starting out.  She has enlarged the landscape for music, she has expanded the colors that can be used upon the musical canvas.  And this collection is about demonstrating how she did that, how she went from kid with a guitar singing traditional folk songs to young adult artist breaking barriers and rules and redefining popular music as we know it.

If you're not getting how important this release is, Judy Collins is giving interviews about it.  

Judy.  Collins.

"Trapped in an AA meeting with Judy Collins (Ava and C.I.)" is the document on Judy Collins.  As Ava and C.I. noted, wet brain Judy can't remember much but she is eager to trash Joni.  She's trying to pretend otherwise -- and the author of RECKLESS DAUGHTER gave Judy anonominity to trash Joni in his book -- while also allowing her to be on record at other points of his bad book.  Judy's still lying and idiots are still letting her lie.

Take AMERICAN SONGWRITER this month which allowed this garbage:

One night in 1967, Judy Collins was fast asleep in her Greenwich Village apartment when the phone rang at three in the morning. It was her friend Al Kooper. He had just played a gig in the neighborhood with his band Blood, Sweat & Tears, and he had struck up a conversation afterward with a good-looking young woman. She was a songwriter and she'd invited him back to her apartment to hear some songs.

"He was so knocked out ," Collins remembers today, "that he called me up and said, 'I know you're looking for songs for your next album, and you have to hear this.' He put Joni on the phone, and she played 'Both Sides Now.' It was - and still is - one of the most singable, the most memorable songs I've ever heard. I got dressed and went right over. She had a little apartment on the Lower East Side, full of cut glass and candles, very Joni. The three of us stayed up all night playing songs." 

Can Judy stop lying?  Al Kooper and Joni have repeatedly told the truth over the years: Judy didn't go over that night.  Judy also refused to pick up Joni the next morning, as planned.  Judy's a liar.  On this detail, see "Put The Bitch In Her Place (Ava and C.I.)" where Ava and C.I. take on hideous Judy and her ever changing stories.

Judy knows which way the wind blows and she's desperate for attention, so she's talking (trashing) Joni again.  The thing that made me laugh the most in that awful AMERICAN SONGWRITER -- after Tom Rush being presented as an unbiased and fair voice -- apparently Sheila Weller is the only one who will acknowledge the sexism in many of Tom's remarks -- was this, "As with her tributes to Dylan, Lennon & McCartney and Leonard Cohen, Collins would like to devote an entire album to Mitchell's songs in the next few years."

Really?  In the next few years?  Tell it to someone else.  Me?  I'm the one who wrote in 2014 of Aretha Franklin's of ARETHA FRANKLIN SINGS GREAT THE GREAT DIVA CLASSICS:

Being Aretha Franklin can be a lonely thing.

As Lady Soul, she's one of the gang, a highly talented member of the crew, but one of the gang.  Elevated, due to her talent, to the Queen of Soul, she's suddenly the target of one pot shot after another and, since Natalie Cole's emergence in the early seventies, one artist after another has showed up eager to knock her off the throne.

When everyone's gunning for you, it's easy to turn bitter.

But Aretha's latest album demonstrates she's anything but.

Leave it to Lady Soul to honor her female peers.

At last, someone has.

It sure wasn't Judy Collins.

As I noted in 2007:

Judy's now decided to record three albums that celebrated two songwriters and one song writing team. Is anyone else noticing that they are all men? Is anyone else wondering why, since "Both Sides Now" more or less made her for most of the public, she's off covering Dylan, Cohen, Lennon and McCartney instead of Joni Mitchell?
If women can't be counted on to celebrate female songwriters, who are we supposed to count on?
Laura Nyro, Nina Simone, Carly Simon, Aimee Mann, Ani DiFranco, Tracy Chapman, Holly Near, Meshell Ndegeocello, Rickie Lee Jones, Chrissie Hynde, Janis Ian and, of course, Joni Mitchell are just some of the women with a body of work worth exploring. So there's something very sad that Judy's off on her third album and appears unaware any female songwriter might have a body of work worth exploring. At the rate Judy's going, we'll have Judy Sings The Songs of Neil Young, Judy Sings The Songs of Paul Simon, Judy Sings The Songs of John Denver and, yes, even Judy Sings The Songs of Tiny Tim before she takes a moment to honor the accomplishments of women.

The male-identified/obsessed feminist -- or 'feminist' -- Judy has recorded one collection after another celebrating male songwriters (an album of Bob Dylan, an album of Lennon and McCartney and an album of Leonard Cohen) while refusing to do the same with the works of Carly Simon, Laura Nyro or Joni Mitchell -- Joni, of course, wrote the only top ten hit Judy's had in her entire career.

When it comes to recognizing female artists, Judy takes a pass and, as usual, the real work was left to a strong woman: Aretha.

Aretha could salute other women?  Judy Collins?  The 81-year-old may do an album of Joni songs "in the next few years"?  How many years does Judy think she has left?

By 2011's BOHEMIAN it was obvious Judy's voice was shot when she tried to sing Joni's "Cactus Tree."  But we're supposed to be thrilled that "in the next few years," she might take that lousy voice and finally sing an album of songs by a woman?  Joan Baez is two years younger than Judy and she's retired (on my local PBS, she says she's retired -- in some of the national press, she gave qualifiers).  Equally true, it's not just three albums celebrating male songwriters, as AMERICAN SONGWRITER insists -- they leave out her 2017 album celebrating the songs of Stephen Sondheim.  

Judy's talking Joni again which lets you know the-desperate-for-press-attention Judy grasps Joni's stock is on the rise so she's going to try to cash in.

On that, Judy's right.  Joni shines on this album.  Her talent is true and clear and charting her artistic progression is amazing.  "Eastern Rain" is a song I wasn't familiar with.  I find the music very similar to a song she'd later write entitled "Ladies Of The Canyon."  It's interesting to see how elements come together and how Joni's focus comes into view.  "Strawflower Me" is interesting both for the range she sings it in and for the word choices she makes.  "Tin Angel" (track 68) finds Joni exploring it in a different way than in the version that shows up on 1969's CLOUDS.  "Come To The Sunshine" is a song that still needs to appear on a Joni studio album.  There are so many treasures here -- of different versions of songs we already know and of songs we haven't heard before.  

The collection succeeds as a document of a great talent emerging but JONI MITCHELL ARCHIVES also succeeds as music -- it's a very satisfying listening experience.  I can't recommend it highly enough.